The 10 Most Overrated Albums Of 2015

1989 Ryan Adams Taylor Swift
It’s inevitable that certain albums get more than their fair share of attention. Like any year, 2015 was littered with records that didn’t quite live up to the hype. Or, that were praised without a much-needed critical eye offering another perspective. In an age where MTV will pull stories about rape culture in music videos because of artist pressure, there isn’t a lot of room for people to speak about negative things in art. So, since it’s Friday, here’s some of what frustrated me in the conversation about massive albums this year.

10. Jamie xx — In Colour
Jamie XX In Colour
Yes, even I included In Colour in our best albums of 2015 list. But did I do it knowing that it was for sure the best electronic album of the year, or because it was the one I had most access and familiarity with? Sure, I love the Popcaan and Young Thug features as much as anyone, and “Loud Places” is a jam, but those songs mostly bang because of the features, not necessarily Jamie xx himself. In fact, the parts where he shows up unaccompanied often remind me more of a sleep machine than an album.

09. Tame Impala — Currents
Tame Impala Currents
While Currents was a great album, and one I felt helped solidify Kevin Parker’s singular vision, there are some rough spots here. “‘Cause I’m A Man” can’t shake its tone deaf gender essentialism no matter how trippy those synths are, no matter how many I’m-a-nice-guy spiels Parker gives to defend it. Those weird Autotuned spoken-word sections on “Past Life” are cheesy as hell. “Let It Happen” is the “Sorry” of this album, and though the rest holds up far better than Purpose, it’s not the flawless masterpiece that some people have made it out to be.

08. Jeremih — Late Nights
Jeremih Late Nights
We waited three years… for this? Considering the mixtape Late Nights With Jeremih was one of the first releases to get me interested in contemporary R&B, I had high expectations for his follow-up. It was supposed to be here in October of 2014, then it was surely coming in 2015, then, suddenly, the year was almost over and no Jeremih. But we already knew things weren’t boding well. “Planes” was tweeted at the top of 2015, then disappeared, and the fact it reappeared with that terrible J.Cole verse still tacked on, like a tick on a stallion, was an even worse sign. Then, without any fanfare, and without even the thrill that comes with surprise albums, it was here. And while there’s a couple good songs on here, it doesn’t live up to his first mixtape in this series, and it doesn’t live up to the hype at all. It’s almost as though waiting so long and watching him grapple with his label–as he continues to do even after the release–made fans want to put on rose colored glasses about the quality of this release. As if they could will it into being a classic through sheer force of will. But you can’t really listen to “Paradise,” the final track on the album, and tell me the rest of it holds up! It simply doesn’t. Throwing that one on the end reminds us of what he’s really capable, and how the bulk of this album falls short of that.

07. Beach House — Thank Your Lucky Stars
Beach House Thank Your Lucky Stars
There’s such a thing as too much of a good thing. Beach House’s Depression Cherry remains one of the best albums of the year, and one that deeply touched my own life. It’s a powerful record. But by releasing another record on the heels of their strongest work to date, the Baltimore dream pop duo both wildly overestimated the attention span of a modern consumer, and watered down the worth of their own output. They’re already accused constantly of making sounds that essentially all sound the same, and wherever you fall on that spectrum, at least having a span of time between album releases helps you pick out the tiny idiosyncrasies that prove it wrong. The site I worked at for the majority of the year accidentally uncovered the surprise release, and honestly, it didn’t elicit a lot of excitement in any of us. The proximity meant that fans would be endlessly pitting the two against each other, or filtering them through the lens of each other, neither of which are helpful or useful. And then there were all the people claiming that TYLS was somehow superior to Depression Cherry? Let’s all agree that taking some time between album releases is built into the system because it’s a useful, necessary break for fans and critics alike, instead of pretending that music can come to us free and pure just because it wasn’t proceeded by a press release.

06. Justin Bieber — Purpose
Justin Bieber Purpose
Let me clarify my stance on Justin Bieber: Purpose is a terrible, overwrought album of unfocused pop dribs and drabs. It reeks of toxic teen boy whining, and petty, sexist grievances, even as Bieber strives to enter adulthood. But, none of this can mitigate the fact that “Sorry” and “What Do You Mean” and “Where Ü Now” (barely an album track, let alone a Bieber track, guys) aren’t brilliant, beyond perfect, unfuckwithable magnificence. They are. That doesn’t mean the whole album is good though. That’s why we’re allowed to download single serving tracks off iTunes for $1.29 and move on with our lives, creating playlists that encompass the cream of an album without getting weighed down by all the sour milk at the bottom. I hope one day Bieber makes an entire album as good as “Sorry,” and that it has better lyrical intentions, too. But to pretend Purpose is anything more than a flop is far too much to ask from me. Related note: If the girl with the green shirt in the “Sorry” video is reading this, can you please call me?

05. Ryan Adams — 1989
1989 Ryan Adams Taylor Swift
Possibly the only covers album in 2015 to be treated like it was an original piece of art, when, it wasn’t. Cover songs and cover albums are great, and Adams has always been a masterful chameleon when it comes to interpreting the work of another artist. But this is an interpretation of a brilliantly sparkling pop album focused on the female experience; it’s a 25-year-old girl’s love life retold through the lens of a depressed middle-aged man. And since it’s done in the broad strokes of songwriter/acoustic folk-rock, instead of bombastic, world-stopping pop glitz, suddenly, people who didn’t realize Taylor Swift is an incredible lyricist are coming out of the woodwork. Neither the New Yorker or Pitchfork deemed 1989 worthy of the scope of their coverage, and yet the sanded down, warbled Adams’ version is? Even if Pitchfork panned the album, they still covered it. Taylor didn’t herself didn’t even merit coverage. I think the worst thing I heard a man ask a woman this year was when Zane Lowe asked Taylor what her favorite song off Ryan Adams’ reworking of her album was. Doesn’t he realize he should be asking Adams that question about Swift’s album? Even though no one asked Adams at all, he answered it anyway, revealing a lot about our culture’s latent bias and his own general self-centeredness in the process. The fact that he’s gone on to tweet mean things at every single critic who didn’t worship his Taylor fanfic is more indicative than anything contained on the record.

04. Kacey Musgraves — Pageant Material
Kacey Musgraves Pageant Material
There’s a shitty dichotomy that a lot of country artists like to set up: pure country versus pop country. It’s really just another form of stodgy traditionalism hating on pop as a viable form of artistic expression, and it gets really gross when you consider that, a lot of the sounds in traditional country music sprang from necessity. Do you think people really wanted to be scraping on a washboard to create sounds? They literally had nothing else, that’s why they did it. For as progressive as Kacey Musgraves is elsewhere, her smug adherence to the “I’m not like the other girls” rhetoric this year absolutely confounded me. As did her appropriation and then skewering of beauty pageant tropes–she’s simultaneously profiting from the tiara-and-sash aesthetic while throwing the women who devote themselves to it under the bus. And while Pageant Material operates within a silvery, sighing palette that is certainly beautiful, it tends to go nowhere fast. It’s like watching a Camaro drive slow through school zones in a backwoods county. Or worse, it’s like watching a truck that should run on premium insist on gassing up with diesel. If Kacey really wants to shake up the industry like she claims, and like she has the platform to do, she needs to live in the future, not the past. In the meantime, your one friend who doesn’t do country will still be sneering at Toby Keith and fawning over Pageant Material for weeks to come.

03. Various Artists — Hamilton: Original Broadway Cast Recording
Hamilton Soundtrack
We get it, a bunch of America’s foremost theatre-going class are delighted to find their favorite bits of their very own country’s history reworked through the delightful form of hip-hop! Imagine?! Rap and musicals are two of my favorite things, the appeal here is very clear, and the conceit is definitely interesting. But this is the kind of cultural artifact that has buffoonish Atlantic writers declaring that a musical’s soundtrack is a better rap album than… well, you know, the entire host of this year’s problematic, puzzling, fascinating rap albums themselves–or any other albums at all for that matter! Lin-Manuel Miranda is a brilliant man. The fact that he’s made a widely appealing musical is to be commended. But it’s still a musical, not a fucking album, and it’s a disservice to all the artists who busted their asses to deliver us actual collections of songs to focus on this winky historical retelling, than on the present.

02. Adele — 25
Adele 25
Album sales do not a great album make. Maybe Adele cracked the mommy piggybanks wide open with her highly-acclaimed third album 25, and I’ll give it to you, “Hello” was a fucking jam, but the rest of what’s here is treacle and tart. Not in a good way. It’s not even that all the songs are sad or dwelling on heartache, but they just don’t do a great or graceful job of dwelling, either. The biggest trainwreck of all is the weird all-of-time party “When We Were Young” that cops its title from the best Killers song but never even reaches that song’s pop-punk pathos. Feel free to join me in moving on from Adele at any time, preferably while we’re all still young.

01. Future — DS2
Future Dirty Sprite 2
There’s something terrifying about listening to a whole album essentially made to spite someone else. There’s something terrifying about a cultural climate that celebrates that kind of record, too. Then again, these kinds of statements have a long history of being celebrated in our culture—as long as they’re coming from men. I’ve been thinking a lot about why this album bothers me so much, and I finally realized it’s because when I listen to it, I think about Ciara. Maybe I care more about the ways this music probably causes pain in her life than I do about its existence? Why do we live in a climate that thinks of Matthew Barney but not Ciara? There’s another force at work here, though. Before DS2 came out, OG Maco went on a tweet spree about how the Atlanta rapper’s music has made Lean and drug addiction sound like a cool and desirable lifestyle. Obviously, Future is by no means the only rapper or musician or person to celebrate doing drugs and glorying in hedonism. But he certainly does it to a new degree–the album itself is titled Dirty Sprite 2, the follow-up to one of his first mixtapes Dirty Sprite. Even if you weren’t aware that dirty Sprite is synonymous with Lean, it’s not that hard to figure out after listening to a couple songs.

Yesterday, critic Rebecca Solnit published an essay about Lolita, and the men who want to explain her interpretations of that novel back to her. She uses this personal experience to get at some much larger issues regarding censorship, whose stories get told, and the way art can and does impact our life with immense power. She writes:

I was trying to articulate that there is a canonical body of literature in which women’s stories are taken away from them, in which all we get are men’s stories. And that these are sometimes not only books that don’t describe the world from a woman’s point of view, but inculcate denigration and degradation of women as cool things to do.

Denigrating women as a cool thing to do, that’s exactly how I feel when I hear Future singing: “Bitch I’mma choose the dirty over you,” or “Now I’m back fucking my groupies,” or “I ain’t got no manners for no sluts.” It’s not like I don’t recognize this album as a brilliant work of art; it’s a great rap album, and I understand that. But at this point, I was unable to listen to it, and watch it be praised almost universally, without thinking about the larger messages it purports. “Photographs and essays and novels and the rest can change your life; they are dangerous,” Solnit writes. And though she didn’t include music in there, I think the sentiment is just as true, if not more so when it comes to albums. She concludes: “Art makes the world, because it matters, because it makes us. Or breaks us.” So when I verbalize my problems with this album, and get them mansplained back to me with the extremely reductive cop out “sometimes good art is problematic,” it makes me even more confident in my assertions. Future shouldn’t be silenced; Future shouldn’t be censored. But I shouldn’t be, either, and neither should any of the feminine or otherwise marginalized perspectives on art that are slowly beginning to enter the mainstream. Furthermore, asserting that it’s an “adult” stance to acquiesce to moral failings is the most childish thing I’ve ever read.

I’m tired of hearing only men’s stories and men’s interpretations of those stories. I’m tired of women presented as punchlines or pawns, organized like props to enact vendettas on a former flame. I’m tired of men undermining my critical writing. I’m tired of being told my issues with a piece of art aren’t valid. My goal as a critic isn’t simply to use wordplay to describe sounds; I think cultural writing can help construct a better world. Obviously, it is possible to do both. But sitting indifferent with “sometimes good art is problematic” is the ugly, naked peak of male complacency that’s run unchecked in the bulk of criticism for years. If art makes the world, then critics help interpret what kind of world we’re making, and to be silent is to submit to someone else making the world for you. Perhaps people who are upset about my opinions on rap music should investigate why they are? If you’re going to publicly tell a woman to be silent, you’ve got to know the real meaning.

For more year-end music coverage check out look back at the ten best albums of the year and check out our best folk, country, pop, experimental, rock and rap albums.

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18 COMMENTS

  1. Seems like the Future rant is more of a rant about the majority of hip hop in general than of DS2

    Is there a particular reason you chose DS2 for #1, rather than Rae Sremmurd, If You’re Reading This, Rodeo, the Drake/Future collab, etc.

    Might have been nicer to actually critique the unique elements of DS2 and save what you wrote for an article of its own. It’s a good perspective, it just felt out of place at the end of this list.

    • first of all, if you think this applies to “all of hip-hop” then you’re already showing me the knowledge level you’re coming from w/r/t the genre. secondly, yes the “rant” was included here because unlike the other albums you listed as examples, DS2 was heralded with the highest praise, most of which didn’t address anything i touched on here. thanks for the suggestion as far as organization but my editors and i are very pleased with how this came out. oh and thank you for reading.

  2. I really liked this piece all in all even though the author at times seems to enjoy the taste of Haterade to that of Dirty Sprite, a few records I liked got some arguably deserved dressing down with some tongue in cheek acerbic wit but it seems like the complaints lodged agains albums #10-#2 were almost written for a different article than those against #1, suddenly the snark was gone and the gloves were off. Where as I might argue DS2 was overrated because 56 Nights was clearly Future’s best and maybe the best album of any genre of 2015, the arguments against felt like a whole separate article, and the arguments are certainly valid and I believe warrant some open discussion, so if you’ll allow a little room to make a counter point or two on behalf of Nayvadius, for no good reason than that I’m probably far to #FutureHive for my own good and that such a well thought out argument warrants a similarly suited rebuttal, if not quite as well thought out and researched.
    The writer here essentially makes two arguments in the piece, 1) that Future and men are afforded more leeway in the form of a “break up album” than women are and points to a negative review of Bjork’s Vulnicura (an album with which I’m not entirely familiar with), where the writer criticizes Bjork for painting a saintly picture of herself throughout her break up while heaping blame on her ex. And 2) that Future’s album is essentially tantamount to an hour straight of him dogging out the mother of his child. Both arguments are valid but and in some ways seemingly obvious but only on a very surface level. While I don’t know much about the particular Bjork album in question or her break up, I don’t think Future is painting a very saintly picture of himself in his relationship. His shortcomings are right there on the surface, drugs, groupies, etc. in fact we get a lot more of what he may have done wrong than we do about any part she may have played (there are songs on monster and 56 nights that touch on it in a more sobering way). We do indeed get lots of machismo, misogyny and self medication, but the pain is there in his voice and delivery the whole time and is what makes it so compelling. The album is great because it sounds like Future’s at war with himself, drowning out heartbreak in pints of codeine and meaningless sex over some of the most dramatic bassy production there is. It’d be far easier to make a bad and detestable album about denigrating women, then it would be to make something as dramatic and compelling as what Future’s made here. Her argument that there is a dearth of women’s stories like this absolutely on point, I’d love to hear a Ciara record where she opened up on all of this subject matter, or any other compelling female artist for that matter, but that lack of these stories is hardly Future’s fault.

  3. wow……. like reading the b-side diary shade of an upper middle class white music reviewer at a overly precious liberal arts college’s newspaper. But fuck it right? it’s bk mag.

  4. I’ll start off by saying that Caitlin is a great writer and brings an interesting perspective to music writing. She knows her way with words. From what I’ve gathered from the outside about Caitlin’s work as a critic on here and on other publications, however, is that her opinions on a matter conflate with what appeared to be a recent traumatic personal experience that looks to have led to a very bad breakup, all which she voluntarily made public with her Twitter followers and occasionally hinted at in her writings over the past year. She basically brought readers along for the healing process of therapy in tweet-form, which can be seen as both heroic, or just sharing way too much personal information about your life that later sets you up for constructive criticisms like the one I’m doing right now. Because she chose to do, it’s difficult for me separate the facts when I read her work.

    Even the Kacey Musgraves portion of this article (and her review of the album at another site) comes off as someone who holds contempt for a successful female artist who is having her cake and eating it, too, simply because she’s pretty. When she mentions Ciara in the Future piece, I can’t help but wonder if the subject touches a trigger with her own experiences in breakups. I hope that if she reads this, she doesn’t take it the wrong way or as an attack (or worse, a gender-based attack) and see its more as what it looks like to a casual reader who only has her tweets and her music pieces to go by.

    As we’ve learned with social media, reality and the Internet are not always what they seem, but it’s become increasingly difficult to read Caitlin’s pieces without acknowledging her apparent personal biases and life experience are the focal point, followed next by the music she is about to talk about and how her biases and experiences affect her perceptions on them.

  5. On second thought, please delete my comment if it even gets posted because I’m sure what I wrote read as very dastardly, buffoonish and failed to extend empathy to the writer of this piece. Again, on top of knowing Caitlin only through her work through publications and the social media filter, she is a great writer and I respect her criticisms, and it’s her prerogative as to how she approaches them. In short, I just hope that she’s doing well in a wellness sense, because that’s all that really matters.

  6. Okay, I’m with you on almost all of this, but… Hamilton is overrated because some folks in The Atlantic wrote a stupid article about it? First of all, it’s The Atlantic. I’d like to think The Atlantic isn’t representative of most intelligent people. And I mean, is Springsteen overrated because a bunch of conservatives have mistakenly interpreted his songs as being right-wing anthems of blind patriotism? Sorry, I just don’t see it. In my experience, the overlap between Hamilton fans and people who dig the work of Kendrick Lamar and Vince Staples (among others) is larger than you’re thinking.

    But yes, I would also argue that Hamilton is a better album than either TPAB and Summertime (both of which I love, don’t get me wrong). It’s not some “winking historical retelling.” It’s a staggeringly ambitious three-hour piece that has some of the most deft lyricism of any musical since Sondheim. Musical theatre is every bit as legitimate an art form as any other form of songcraft, and it doesn’t do a disservice to other artists to acknowledge the scope of what Miranda has achieved here. And for you to be so dismissive of a populist art form seems really weird to me, given your love of Swift and CRJ (who are equally great at making awesome music with broad appeal).

  7. This was well written (like all your stuff) and all that, and here comes the but, BUT Thank Your Lucky Stars was better than Depression Cherry! That is all 😉

  8. I don’t understand. Is Hamilton not an actual collection of songs? Did someone not write lyrics and music for it? What the fuck? And if you think that we should focus on “the present” instead of on this “winky retelling,” then you’ve entirely missed the whole point of this musical.

  9. I would’ve personally gone with What a Time to Be Alive rather than DS2 (Future’s best album). Talk about a disappointment. Nonetheless, I can’t say I completely disagree. Future is an overrated rapper in general, the hype is unreal. I got to give him credit for inventing a new flow/delivery though which is being imitated pretty frequently these days. All in all though, he’s just a 2015 Lil Wayne and I seriously doubt he’ll have staying power.

    Anyway, Caitlin, I’ve been enjoying these lists and the writing. Hopefully we’ll get more music articles in the future (and not just year-end recaps).

  10. We’re clearly in a great place with music criticism in 2015 when a three-paragraph takedown of an LP contains only three lines pulled from the first six tracks.

  11. I think critical use of the word “overrated” is, well, overrated. In fact, I’m developing an allergy to it. It generally just means that the reviewer calling the material “overrated” didn’t like it as well as other reviewers. As long as a reviewer makes a cogent case for her/his opinion of an album (that’s rarely done but that’s a whole different issue), that’s really quite enough. The word “overrated” tends to imply that “I got it right while the rest of the world got it wrong” which in turn indicates that there is some universal standard by which reviewers can measure the quality of an album. That’s not to say I’m an absolute relativist. I do think there are lesser albums and then there are great albums (Steven Wilson’s Hand.Cannot.Erase springs to mind for this year). Of course, you’re perfectly free to have a different opinion. But, just by way of example, calling my favorite album overrated would indicate that you had some special vision for the relative worth of albums when in fact we just don’t share the same opinion.

  12. Jesus Christ. This shit is all terrible — and fucking boring, too. Anybody who can characterize any of that callow assclown Beiber’s output as “brilliant, beyond perfect, unfuckwithable magnificence” needs to have their license to review music revoked and their ears cauterized for the good of humanity.. The poptimists have completely lost all critical perspective. Ann Powers has much to answer for.

  13. I don’t particularly mind critiques that take into account the sociopolitical implications of artwork but it’s becoming somewhat tiresome to read critiques that simply revolve around whether or not a particular piece of art is politically problematic. To quote your purpose review: “Which boils down to my major issue with Purpose, it’s built atop the fumbling, weak variety of masculinity that seems more ubiquitous with every passing day.” I’m all for conscious consumption of art, but at what point does this sort of review become not one of “how is this album” and more “how well does the lyrical content conform to my political worldview”

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